Most new cases since early February, continuing the March trend
New cases of COVID-19 escalated by 38% the second half of March, but deaths declined by about 26% in that same period, Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Thursday.
Daily caseloads of the respiratory disease averaged nearly 2,155 from March 16 through Wednesday, compared to 1,561 between March 1 and 15. However, an average of about 22 people a day died of COVID-19 from March 16 through Wednesday, compared to 30 fatalities daily from March 1 to 15.
On Thursday, new cases rose sharply to 3,526, the most in a day since early February, with 25 more deaths from the respiratory disease, the IDPH reported.
On Feb. 5, the state reported 3,660 new cases.
Amid concerns about a third virus resurgence, the state received another 236,500 vaccines from the federal government Thursday for a total of 7,544,135 doses since distribution began in mid-December, with 5,918,422 shots administered so far.
Adding to the growing inoculations were about 1,000 people getting shots at a mass clinic the city of Aurora launched at a former Carson Pirie Scott store at Fox Valley Mall, focusing on increasing vaccinations among Black, Hispanic and Indian American residents.
Among those receiving shots were Mayor Richard Irvin and Guadalupe Sarabia of Aurora, who winced slightly when the needle went into her arm. "It hurt a little bit, but I think that is normal," she said.
On Wednesday, 116,551 more people received COVID-19 shots. The rolling seven-day average is now at 109,073.
So far, 2,204,598 people -- 17.3% of Illinois' population -- have been fully vaccinated. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses several weeks apart, while Johnson & Johnson has a one-dose vaccine.
Illinois hospitals were treating 1,411 COVID-19 patients Wednesday night.
IDPH data shows hospitalizations for COVID-19 averaged 1,261 a day from March 16 through Wednesday, in contrast with 1,166 between March 1 and 15, representing an 8% increase.
The state's seven-day case positivity rate is at 3.5%, up slightly from Wednesday.
Total cases statewide stand at 1,248,111, and 21,326 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.
Labs processed 96,177 virus tests in the last 24 hours.
Opening Day safety tips
Thursday marked Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs and White Sox. Masks are required and outdoor stadiums are limited to 20% capacity, which Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital Medical Director and Dr. Michael Bauer said offers protection as long as fans use common sense.
"Briefly removing a mask to go ahead and eat and drink, especially in that environment with it being outdoors and distant, is going to be a safe thing for people to do," Bauer said.
"Try and avoid shoulder-to-shoulder, big, crowded lines certainly for an extended period of time."
Bauer said he was encouraged by the rising tides of vaccines arriving in Illinois.
"Keep being smart about things and follow the science, get a vaccine in your arm and that light at the end of the tunnel is going to shine brighter and brighter," he said.
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Brian Hill contributed to this report.